This world is full of colors, and Art is just one of the mediums to capture those colors in a single frame. It is an inspiration for some while looking at a piece of Art is comforting. Some might even get inspired, or maybe it is a ray of hope for some. Sometimes, a bit of Art can bring back old memories and make us smile. Since it captures people, places, and events and enhances the beauty and meaning of built environments and everyday objects, Art is an essential component of civilization. It enables individuals to view the world in novel, original ways. Communities benefit from an artist’s inspiration, excitement, and contact. One of those artists is John Houston.

Life of an Artist: John Houston - Sheet1
John Houston_©Bob Mabon

Overview of the artist

John Houston was born in the land of highlands and beauty, Scotland. Houston, an Edinburgh native, attended the Edinburgh College of Art, where he later began teaching. After serving as the department head of the painting school and the director of the post-graduate program, he retired in 1989. His early paintings were expressive and semi-abstract, but in the late 1960s, under the influence of Turner and American Abstract Expressionism, his portraits took on a more atmospheric quality. Houston was fascinated by the sea’s restless vitality, making it one of his favorite themes. He was married to the Scottish artist Elizabeth Blackadder.

Life of an Artist: John Houston - Sheet2
Sun, sea and sky_©The Scottish Gallery

He spent his final year at Edinburgh College of Art on a travel scholarship in Italy. To lecture at the College, he went back to Edinburgh. Houston assisted in founding the 57 Gallery in Edinburgh in 1957, and his first solo exhibition there took place in 1958. For many years, the Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh and the Mercury Gallery also hosted additional one-person shows. Houston was an avid traveler who traveled widely. In addition to being an RSW and SSA member, he was elected RSA in 1972. Munch significantly influenced Houston and used vibrant colors for expressionism in his landscape paintings. Today, his art is found in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Philosophy

From 1841 through 1885, Scotsman John Adam Plimmer Houston frequently displayed his work in Edinburgh and London in the categories of history paintings and watercolor landscapes. The artist most frequently chose historical scenes from the English Civil War, depicted in fine detail, paying particular attention to attire and architecture, and with gentle, even lighting. In this illustration, Houston used light and color to produce a theatrical mood that is both descriptive of danger and hope and strikingly similar to the luminist movement in American Art of the time.

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The Fugitive Slave_©The Johnson Collection

The picture provides an arresting vantage point from which to view a black man crouching in the bottom right foreground and glowing golden. That blazing light, which emanates from a source in the background, misses the shadowy mounted men in the middle ground. A cross-shaped star, a representation of salvation, is visible high in the sky, straight above the escaping slave’s head.

Style of Work

Modern Scottish painting is typified by straightforward statements, vibrant colors, and the actual substance of the paint as it lies on the surface in Houston’s work. Its expressionist style is organic, sensual, and hedonistic, but it is not indulgent in any way. Instead, it is based on a sympathetic grasp of the more prominent European expressionist heritage that dates back to the Fauves. The landscape—a sea and sky-scape often reduced to near abstraction and laden with an unconscious symbolism—would always be his real subject, even though he would incorporate still-life, frequently on a massive scale, and the human figure as well. Nearly his symbol was the picture of the Bass Rock, which is located in the North Sea off the coast of North Berwick.

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Sunbather_©Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, Mima

Recognition after death

John Houston’s work has already been displayed at several important galleries and museums, including Glasgow Print Studio. Several times, John Houston’s artwork has been put up for an auction; realized prices have ranged from 61 USD to 14,991 USD, depending on the size and material of the piece. Since 1998, ORIENTAL POPPIES 1, sold at Lyon & Turnbull Edinburgh in 2021, set this artist’s record price at an auction of USD 14,991. Articles for ArtDaily, The Herald, and The Scotsman have mentioned John Houston. Scottish Art Sells Best in Scotland, published in March 2021 for ArtDaily, is the most recent piece.

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Temple Garden with Waterfall and Pagoda_©Glasgow print studio

During his job at the school of Arts, he was utterly committed to his work. After his appointments were confirmed as full-time positions in 1960, he started teaching at the institution part-time. Even after they stopped painting, Edinburgh College of Art remained an essential part of their professional careers until their retirement, with Houston finally taking over as David Michie’s deputy head of painting in 1989. While never dogmatic, the Scottish art schools maintained the traditional disciplines long after England had abandoned them. Gillies, still the principal in the 1960s, insisted that all of his professors cover the complete spectrum of themes. From still life to the living room from the first to the last year, and at all levels. Students, including John Bellany, recall Houston with warmth and respect for his firm but always human supervision and support.

References:

  • Packer, W. (2008). John Houston Painter of the postwar Scottish school who found his truest subject in the landscape. [online] The Guardian. Available at: John Houston | National Galleries of Scotland. https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/artists/john-houston [Accessed 25 Jun. 2022].
Author

Goral is inquisitive in nature because she thinks that the only way to reach to know the secret of the world, is by asking questions. Since she is a keen observer, noting down her observations has led her into the world of creative writing.

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